Steve Bruce has hailed the “unique” talent of Allan Saint-Maximin after watching him inspire Newcastle to Premier League victory over Burnley.
The 23-year-old Frenchman returned from a three-game injury lay-off to rip into the Clarets on Saturday evening, twisting and turning his way into space to open the scoring and then coasting past full-back Charlie Taylor to set up the first instalment of Callum Wilson’s double in a 3-1 win.
Saint-Maximin, a £16million signing from Nice last summer, has quickly established himself as a crowd favourite at St James’ Park – although his latest heroics came behind closed doors – and head coach Bruce knows he has a special talent on his hands.
He said: “He’s got breathtaking ability, but we all know there’s a bit of the maverick in him which becomes sometimes difficult.
“But he’s different, unique, a wonderful footballer and skills as good as I’ve worked with. He’s still got a lot of work to do defensively-wise, of course, but when he gets you faced up and when gets you one-on-one in the box and the pace and power he’s got left or right, then he is naturally a joy to watch.
“Let’s hope he keeps on improving because he’s a big asset to us when he’s right.”
Saint-Maximin’s pace and trickery have made him a marked man and he has quickly had to get used to some X-rated treatment, with Burnley full-back Phil Bardsley fortunate to escape punishment for a challenge from behind on a man who has endured more than his fair share of injuries during his time on Tyneside to date.
Bruce said: “I couldn’t believe that wasn’t a yellow card. Look, we need to protect him a little bit, that’s for sure. Of course in the British game, the mentality will be, ‘Let’s get after him physically’.
“The way he plays, he’s going to draw a foul, but you have to say arguably on the pitch, there was only him who could score the first goal, and the second one I thought was just outstanding, his work to beat the full-back and deliver the cross for Callum to tap it in.”
Saint-Maximin’s 14th-minute opener looked to have put Newcastle in control until Ashley Westwood levelled with a thumping 61st-minute volley.
However, he then set up Wilson to restore the lead within four minutes and the former Bournemouth striker completed the job from the penalty spot after goalkeeper Nick Pope had tripped substitute Ryan Fraser.
It proved a bad day for Clarets boss Sean Dyche, whose side – which included James Tarkowski and Ashley Barnes after injury – have now lost each of their first three league games.
Asked if he was worried by that, Dyche said: “It’s not worrying. We’ve got the most stretched squad I’ve ever had since I’ve been here, we haven’t activated where we’d like to in the market, so there is a reality to that.”
Asked how important the remaining hours of the summer transfer window might be, Dyche added: “I don’t think it will be that important to us because I don’t think there’ll be anything happening.”